Friday, February 23, 2007
Sixteen people died and at least as many were missing after a fire broke out on an Indonesian ferry off Jakarta Bay on Thursday, with some desperate passengers hurling themselves off the blazing vessel into the sea. The Levina I was on its way to Bangka island off Sumatra with about 300 people on board when it caught fire soon after dawn 80 km (50 miles) from Jakarta's Tanjung Priok port. TV footage of the stricken vessel showed plumes of thick black smoke emerging from the ferry's lower decks, while a fire-fighting ship alongside tried to douse the blaze. One of the first survivors brought back to Jakarta described panic when the crew told passengers a fire had broken out in the lower deck, which was loaded with motorcycles and cars."It was dark. The first thing I did was look for a lifebuoy and then jumped into the sea. I saw someone jump without a lifebuoy who died," said the passenger, who gave his name as Mursid. Bobby Mamahit, an official at the center for navigation at the transport ministry, told reporters at the port that 16 people had died, 17 were missing and 274 had survived. He said the 27-year-old ship was made in Japan. Transport Minister Hatta Rajasa said it was too early to be clear on the cause of the blaze but, according to search coordinator Sato Bisri, the ferry's engineer and captain said the fire started in a truck. "The flame got bigger after they poured water on it. We suspect it was some kind of chemical material." Colonel Didin Z.A, who headed the navy rescue team, earlier told reporters in the port that the dead included three children. The port was crowded with anxious relatives of passengers, as ambulances and paramedics stood ready to treat survivors.